Date of Award

3-2015

Degree Name

MS in Biological Sciences

Department

Biological Sciences

Advisor

Francis Villablanca

Abstract

Invasive species are generally regarded as detrimental to native communities because they cause increased competition and community structure alterations. There is therefore a critical need to understand the ecological processes underlying the establishment and spread of invasive species. While most studies to date have focused on the role of competition in species invasions, trophic dynamics may also play a fundamental role in the establishment and spread of non-natives, especially in cases when a non-native species experiences differential predation pressure relative to a native competitor. Herein I explore the potential for differential granivory pressure by a native rodent (Heermann’s kangaroo rat, Dipodomys heermanni arenae) on native shrubs and an invasive plant (Veldt grass, Ehrharta calycina). Veldt grass, a perennial tufted grass native to South Africa and introduced to California in 1929, is highly invasive, and the shift of native coastal dune scrub to a grassland, dominated by Veldt grass, is considered one of the factors that led to the decline of the federally endangered Morro Bay kangaroo rat. However, kangaroo rats are largely graminivores (consume grass seed) and are known to consume invasive grasses and other plants. Differential seed preferences for native and Veldt seed were examined by placing feeding stations containing each seed type in habitats dominated by either native plants or Veldt grass. Each feeding station was monitored using motion-activated game cameras and the amount of each seed type collected by nineteen individually-marked, wild kangaroo rats was documented. These marked kangaroo rats were monitored both in native and Veldt grass habitats, allowing for the testing of habitat origin (Native vs. Veldt), sex (male or female) and seed type on the amount of seed taken. Nine of the kangaroo rats harvested Veldt grass seed. Though females collected more seed than males, there was no difference between the amounts (% of available seed) of Veldt grass and native seed collected. Habitat of origin (i.e., habitats with Veldt grass present or habitats without Veldt grass) had no effect on the amount of seed collected or the type of seed collected. During seed station trials, kangaroo rats were also recorded removing seed heads from naturally occurring Veldt grass stalks, providing clear documentation that Heermann’s kangaroo rats do collect Veldt grass seed. Accompanying laboratory seed preference trials were also conducted to confirm the consumption of Veldt grass seed. These controlled laboratory trials revealed that Heermann’s kangaroo rats will consume Veldt grass seed, although Veldt grass seed was consumed in smaller amounts (g) than millet and sunflower seed, which were presented simultaneously. These findings indicate that non-native Veldt grass may provide an additional or alternative source of seed for kangaroo rats, which could provide a partial explanation for why kangaroo rats are able to survive in monocultures of Veldt grass.

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